Drew Timme brought his ever-present smile, thanks to seeing a packed McCarthey Athletic Center for the first time in nearly 600 days, and his signature ’stache celebration.
The latter made what’s sure to be the first of numerous appearances this season when it was his turn during player introductions Saturday at the outset of Gonzaga’s annual Kraziness in the Kennel festivities.
“I can’t even describe it, it makes me just get to a whole new level of energy,” Timme said of the Kennel at full occupancy and full throat after the COVID-19 restrictions of last season. “I was ear-to-ear (smiling), so excited. It makes it so much easier to get up for a game and helps you keep adrenaline flowing for way longer.”
Oh, and he offered his outlook on how this season ends after the Zags’ 31-1 season last year, the lone loss coming to Baylor in the NCAA championship game.
“We’re taking it all this year,” Timme said in his closing remarks to the crowd. “Just be ready.”
The junior forward doubled down later in a news conference, after the Zags finished skills, 3-point shooting and dunk contests, and a 15-minute scrimmage that ended in a 38-38 tie.
“Why wouldn’t I be confident?” said Timme, a top candidate for national player of year. “I feel like we’re the best team in the country and I’m going to stand by that for as long as I live.”
Saturday’s events provided insight into why the Zags again are considered title contenders.
The scrimmage had the customary stretches of sloppiness and unforced turnovers, but nearly everyone who is expected to be in the rotation or competing for minutes had their moments. The Zags appear well-stocked with talent, depth, versatility and athleticism, even without sophomore guard Dominick Harris, who is sidelined indefinitely with a right foot injury.
“I said this last year a lot, practices are harder than the games,” Timme said. “We’re bringing in all these five-star (recruits) and top players. Every day in practice is so hard, just to be able to do what you want to do, to be able to score, to defend. It’s hard and it’s what makes this program special – just the competition within.”
That was evident during the scrimmage. The White and Navy teams each made at least 50% of their shots and combined to go 8 of 20 from distance. White team forward Ben Gregg’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds evened the score at 38.
But it wasn’t all offense all the time. Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class, had two blocks and fellow freshman Kaden Perry swatted Timme at the rim, drawing rave reviews from Timme afterward. The teams combined for seven steals, including two each by Gregg, sophomore Julian Strawther and freshman Hunter Sallis.
Strawther led all scorers with 11 points. He grabbed five boards and had a nifty drive and one-handed dunk. Sallis had a scrimmage-high six rebounds and six points and classmate Nolan Hickman added five points and five boards. Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton scored seven points and Anton Watson chipped in six.
“Honestly, everyone brings something unique to the table and I think they’re all going to really help us,” said senior guard Andrew Nembhard, when asked who has surprised him in practice.
Nembhard, who had with 10 points and three assists, was runner-up in the 3-point competition. Hickman and Nembhard both made 11 3s in 45 seconds, but Hickman won a sudden-death extra session by drilling his first attempt.
“Thought I had it,” Nembhard said. “Nolan can shoot it, though.”
Gregg was flawless in winning the skills competition – slalom dribbling around four cones, pass through a hoop held by a cheerleader and making a layup, free throw and 3-pointer – over Watson. The 6-foot-10 Gregg didn’t miss a shot in two trips through the circuit.
The dunk competition was a high-altitude battle between Strawther, Sallis, Bolton and Perry. Sallis edged Bolton in the finals after scooping up a bounce pass, swinging the ball between his legs and elevating for a one-handed slam. Timme, one of three judges, promptly presented Sallis with a 100% judge’s card.
Some curious math left Strawther out of the finals after earning a perfect score of 30 on his second attempt.
“I don’t know how he wasn’t in there,” Timme said. “That wasn’t on me, I have to talk to the other judges on that one.”
Asked which dunk was his favorite, Timme said, “Hunter’s, for sure. That was nasty.”
The Zags will face Eastern Oregon on Oct. 31 and Lewis-Clark State on Nov. 5 in exhibition games before opening the season against Dixie State on Nov. 9.
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